Normative and Factual Dimensions of Applied Linguistic Designs

Applied linguistic designs come in a number of formats, the first and possibly most evident being language courses that are intended to facilitate the development of language ability. Next are the language tests that assess that ability either before or after, or separately from a course that has been presented and followed. Finally, we encounter language policies, that may prescribe how language issues are to be handled in institutions. The latter, language policies, may or may not be as strongly related to the former as the former two often are related to each other. Language courses are likely to be preceded or followed by assessment, but, other than general organizational requirements that refer to assessment, there may not be a specific institutional language policy that sanctions their use. In other, more fortunate cases, however, the three main applied linguistic artefacts do act in concert: in some institutions, such as universities, for example, there may be a specific organizational requirement relating to language ability that affects the subsequent assessment as well as the instructional design. In South African universities as well as internationally (Read 2016), to mention one set of cases, students applying to tertiary institutions may be required by organizational policy to submit themselves to an assessment of their ability to use language for academic purposes. After the results of such assessment are known, prospective students may be compelled after enrollment to take a language course in order to minimize the risk that attaches to too low a level of academic literacy, as this ability is generally referred to. In such a case one has a close alignment among the various applied linguistic interventions: the policy prescribes the taking of the test; the test results determine the course to be followed. It follows that if they are collaboratively designed to address the same language problem, such integration of policy, planning and intervention is likely to yield the most desirable and effective result.

Saying that there are three main kinds of applied linguistic artefacts , namely language courses, language tests and language policies, to an extent obscures the fact, however, that this range of designed interventions may have further dimensions or levels. In the philosophical framework that I am using, a distinction is conventionally made between, on the one hand, the normative conditions for artefacts and, on the other, the factual artefacts themselves, that conform to these conditions. From that perspective, we may speak at one level of prescriptive, regulating artefacts and at another level of the products that are made, subject to those conditions. It is also clear that, for an intervention to qualify as an applied linguistic design, the one takes precedence over the other: one cannot really have an applied linguistic design if the conditions for its production are not patent. Of course the reverse is also true: one cannot conceive of a design principle in abstraction, unrelated to a factual applied linguistic artefact. In short: there is a prior, conditioning dimension to applied linguistic designs, to which the eventual end product or end-user format of the design is subject. For the three major applied linguistic artefacts, there therefore appears to be a relationship in each entitary category between what one may call a condition-setting design, and the factual outcome of those designs, as in the following table (Table 11.1) (Weideman 2011a):

Table 11.1 Levels of applied linguistic artefacts

Prior, conditioning artefact

End-user format of design

Language curriculum

Language course

Construct and test specifications

Language test

Language policy

Language management plan

In this conceptualization, language curricula set the conditions or criteria according to which language courses are (or should be) designed. Test constructs and specifications, in turn, prescribe, sometimes in great detail, how tests should be put together. These specifications determine the exact format of each of the subtests and the items they contain. Language policies i similarly, determine the shape of the language management strategies and plans that they envisage in order to give effect to their prescriptions. There is no doubt, however, that these concrete prescriptions for designs - what is termed above the prior, conditioning artefacts - operate at a normative level, while the end-user formats, the products of the prescription, operate at a factual level. The interface of applied linguistic designs with those that are ultimately affected by them usually is these end-user formats. Thus learners engage in the first instance with courses, not with curricula, and organisational plans or arrangements made in terms of a language policy affect language users in an institution. In the first instance, but not exclusively, however: How, in a democratic and participative context end-users are given some kind of say also in the formulation of the normative, conditioning designs, is a matter of consideration when the political dimensions of the technical design will be discussed below.

The end-user formats of applied linguistic designs are thus the factual shapes - concrete l anguage courses, tests, and plans - according to which the design is implemented. Though these end-user formats are themselves designs, they give effect to the plans envisaged. Norm and fact are thus two sides of the same coin, and we cannot imagine the one without the other. Having a language assessment for example, that is not open and clear about the language ability it measures, its construct, is unthinkable in applied linguistic terms. A test has to give effect to usually strict specifications that are, in turn, tightly related to what is tested, the test construct (Patterson and Weideman 2013a, b).

There is an additional level of complexity here, as will be noted again below. This is that the normative and factual designs refer in this discussion to concrete entities or artefacts, such as curricula, courses, specifications, tests, policies and plans that are typically different. So the first level of normative specification will in each case have to refer to or assume what the identity of the kind of design in question should be. Simply phrased: a language plan is not a language test, and a test is not a course (though learning and development of a language could be a side and secondary effect of either a plan or an assessment). Each typically different artefact is specifiable in terms of its own nature and its specific design purpose and rationale: a design for organizational arrangements about language (a language policy), a plan for the purpose of instructional intervention (a language course) or an instrument intended to assess language ability (a language test). The conditions for these designs may therefore be categorized as typical norms for the design of applied linguistic artefacts. In the philosophical framework being employed here, they are also referred to as entity structures, each with their own identity. These observations relate to a complex applied linguistic idea: that of the complex relationship of technical norm and technical factuality. It is complex in the sense that it is conceivable only in terms of a range of elementary technical concepts and ideas that will be discussed below as constitutive concepts and regulative ideas (Weideman 2009b).

This further set of norms for the design of applied linguistic artefacts relates not to the concretely different artefacts, each with their own unique identity, but are general design conditions for technical artefacts, that deserve to be separately discussed .

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